Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Black or White
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Black Sea
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

The Perfect Storm

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2000

It’s very hard to make a good book into a good movie, even a good book that seems inherently cinematic, as this one does, with all its swirling winds and crashing waves. But in adapting this book, the screenwriter made a number of choices that make the main character’s decision to ride into the storm seem prudent by comparison, and the movie starts to sink long before the boat does.

The first challenge was finding a substitute for one of the book’s great strengths, its narrative voice. The first mistake was substituting dialogue that was corny back in 1940’s movies about fighter squadrons. At least then it seemed like an understandable response to being in battle. But to have your main character say things like, “So this is the moment of truth. This is where they separate the men from the boys,” with a straight face is to jar us out of any identification with the characters.

The second challenge was to give us a movie called “The Perfect Storm,” based on a book called “The Perfect Storm,” based on an actual perfect storm, and then keep our attention for an hour and a half before we actually get to see the storm. The second mistake was in wasting this chance to make us care about the characters. Instead, each member of the crew of the Andrea Gail is trotted onstage Smurf-style, with one identifying characteristic for us to grab onto. Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) has to prove to himself and to the owner of the boat that he can bring in a good load of fish. Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) has to choose between his love for the sea and his girlfriend Christina (Diane Lane). Bugsy (John Hawkes) has the prospect of a new love to come home to. Scully (William Fichtner) and Murph (John C. Reilly) don’t get along with each other. It would have made more sense to let us know something more about the characters who pop up later on, the Coast Guard rescue team and the three people they save from the sailboat. Furthermore, in a movie like this, positively the last thing in the world anyone needs is foreshadowing, and yet before the storm comes, we keep being hit over the head with foreboding, with comments like, “I have a bad feeling about this,” and “this is the last time, I promise.” Believe me, “this is the last time, I promise,” is a more certain indicator of disaster than a slasher movie’s “I’ll be right back!”

The third challenge was making use of the kind of all-star cast that this kind of a highly visible and well-financed project can draw. The third mistake was a criminal waste of the talents of people like Cherry Jones and Karen Allen, whose roles primarily consist of yelling “Mayday” and bobbing in the water, and Christopher McDonald, whose role primarily consists of staring meaningfully at a computer monitor. Wahlberg, Fichtner, Lane, and Reilly, four fine actors, are left more adrift by the script than their characters are by the storm.

The fourth challenge was making it all make sense. Someone once said that the difference between real life and movies is that movies have to make sense and real life doesn’t. What that means is that movies, like any other kind of story, have an internal logic that people understand instinctively. Part of that logic governs who in a movie can die without leaving an audience feeling cheated. There was a way to make the logic of the movie fit the facts of what happened, and the fourth failure was missing it.

The fifth challenge was taking a sad story and making it feel sad, not maudlin. The fifth mistake was failing on this one, too. The scenes on land following the storm go on too long. This is where we really need some insight and some good dialogue, and we just don’t get it. And there is one scene, just before one character dies, where he speaks to a loved one and sees her in an apparition that even the producers of “Message in a Bottle” would have been embarrassed to try.

The sixth challenge is the one most people care most about, and that is the special effects on the storm and the filming of the action scenes as people fight to stay alive. That one is met in full, and for that alone the movie gets three stars.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong sailor language and some sexual references that can get crude. Characters drink and smoke a great deal. For most parents, the primary concern will be the scariness and sadness of the movie. It is very intense and many characters are killed. Parents should be willing to give kids deniability (“I really want to see it but my parents won’t let me!”) if they sense that the kids do not want to go.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way the characters evaluate their options and deal with the consequences of their decisions. After the first rescue, the Coast Guard is told that their superiors cannot order them to go to the second, because it is too hazardous. What went into their decision about how to respond? Captain Tyne had to decide whether to try to get home through the storm in time to save their catch or protect his men’s lives while losing all their money. How did he decide?

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see another movie about a Massachusetts captain taking on the sea, “Moby Dick,” with Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab.

The Patriot

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

As I watched this movie, I kept thinking of the tagline from “Jaws 4:” “This time it’s personal.” Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a veteran of the British army who was a hero during the French and Indian war. Twenty years later, he has no love for the monarchy but some skepticism about the alternative. He asks, “Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?” and “I haven’t got the luxury of principles.” More than that, his memories of the atrocities of war, his own as well as the enemy’s, and his passion for protecting his seven children won’t allow him to fight again.

But that would not be much of a movie, would it? And we get a portent in the very first scene, when Benjamin fails in his umpteenth effort to make a rocking chair for himself. And there is a long Hollywood tradition of reluctant heroes who are forced into violence, thus giving us the best of both worlds with a hero whose heart is in the right place, but whose muscles and gun are, too. So, Benjamin has to find a reason to fight. It would have been nice if that reason had something to do with liberty and democracy, but instead it is about revenge. Benjamin’s son is killed by a British soldier. So Benjamin throws guns to his younger boys, straps several onto himself, and goes off to fight his own personal war, a sort of Robin Hood crossed with Terminator. The only heartfelt struggle for independence in the movie is teen-age rebellion.

It’s one thing when producing/directing team Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich give us a movie like “Independence Day,” with bad guy aliens who are pure evil. But it is another thing when they take an actual historical event and actual historical characters and play fast and loose with the facts. The bad guy in this movie is Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a villain so reprehensible that he not only burns down a church filled with civilians, he enjoys it. He makes Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil look small-time. This level of cartoonish exaggeration makes it harder for us to engage with the characters.

That aside, though, this is a very enjoyable summer popcorn movie, sumptuously and excitingly filmed, and rousingly entertaining. It faced quite a challenge, because there has never been a successful movie about the Revolutionary War. One reason is that it is not very cinematic. The dress and weaponry of that time seems more suited to 4th of July parades than to an action movie. The muskets took forever to reload. And there are other troubling issues. Many of the heroes of that era were slave holders, and thus impossibly unsympathetic by today’s standards. Those issues are handled capably. The action sequences play well, and the black characters are treated with as much dignity as possible. A French soldier says to one of the slaveholders, “Your sense of freedom is as pale as your skin.” And a slave who is given to the militia by his owner demonstrates his courage and honor, becoming a valued colleague.

Gibson delivers, as always. He is utterly compelling whether he is hacking an opponent to death, looking tenderly at a tiny daughter who will not speak to him, or agonizing over his past sins. Fellow Aussie Heath Ledger is superb as oldest son Gabriel, at first impatient to join the fight, later a brave and mature soldier and an ardent suitor. Lisa Brenner, as the object of his affection, is radiantly lovely. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography perfectly captures the colors and textures of the era.

Families who watch this movie should talk about the real origins of the Revolutionary War. They might want to look up Francis Marion, known as the Swamp Fox, who, like the fictional Benjamin Martin, defeated the British soldiers by using his knowledge of the local topography and by staying away from open-field battles. It is also worth talking about the notions of rules within wartime, as shown in the negotiations between Benjamin and Cornwallis. How do enemies agree on rules? What should those rules be? Why did Benjamin refuse to give his name? Why did Cornwallis care about limiting the damage to civilians?

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie, with many graphic battle scenes, vividly portrayed. A character commits suicide when his family is killed. There are some gentle sexual references in a scene depicting the colonial custom of “bundling bags” for courting couples.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Friendly Persuasion” (about a Quaker family during the Civil War) and the most successful Emmerich-Devlin production, “Independence Day.”

The Other Side of Heaven

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2001

This gently retro story of a young Morman missionary in the Pacific Islands of Tonga loses some wholesomeness points due to some smug insularity.

It takes John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) 83 days to get to the tiny Tongan island where he will be stationed for two years, following his graduation from Brigham Young University. His only link with home is the monthly mail delivery, and the letters he writes to the girl he hopes to marry (“The Princess Diaries'” Anne Hathaway) provide the narration.

John faces challenges from the culture and setting. The local minister (a Tongan Christian) tells the natives not to deal with him, and even sends some to rough him up. A typhoon wipes out all of the island’s crops and homes. he is caught in a storm at sea. Those darn natives keep wanting to not follow the rules he has come to teach him. And the church criticizes him for not doing his paperwork. Through all of this John is unfailingly wise, patient, and obedient. He cures an injured child with prayer and pre-CPR first aid. He resists a native beauty who offers him sex without commitment. He even proves himself to the rival minister, who not only apologizes but sacrifices himself so that John can survive. Through all of this, John never questions his role, so he never really learns or grows.

Parents should know that the movie has some bloody injuries, scary storms, and character deaths. Native girls go off with sailors who offer passage in exchange for sex. Characters abuse alcohol. John makes it clear that in his view sex is only for those bound by marriage in a covenant of eternal love. Despite the superficiality, it is always good to see a movie character who has a strong spiritual and moral commitment that informs his choices.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we find a balance between respect for the cultures and religions of others and knowing our own moral and spiritual centers. They may also want to talk about the way John and his family draw on their faith in making their decisions.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christy: Amazing Grace. And they might want to see South Pacific, another story that takes place in Tonga, and one that frankly addresses the issues of racial and cultural diversity.

The Others

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

Way back before computer graphics, movie makers knew how to scare us through what the movie didn’t show us. They knew that no one knows what scares us as well as we do ourselves, and that anything we could imagine would be far more scary than anything they could put on the screen. “The Others” is a return to that kind of old-fashioned-squeaky door hinge-flapping shutter-“Who is that playing Chopin downstairs when I know I locked the piano?”-“She can’t leave now! It’s too foggy!” sort of thriller, the kind that creeps into your bones and makes you shiver.

Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children live in a huge old home on an isolated island near England. World War II has ended, but she still has not heard from her husband and is trying not to let herself fear that he may be dead. Her two children have a genetic photo-sensitivity and break out in welts if they are exposed to any light stronger than a candle. The servants all left mysteriously, not even staying to get their wages, and they are there alone when three new servants show up, explaining that they worked at the house once years before and were happy there, so they have returned. Their arrival is unsettling, but not as unsettling as evidence of “intruders,” including sightings by Grace’s daughter Anne. Grace does her best to hold everything together, to protect the children’s souls (she is deeply religious, and is preparing Anne for her first communion) and their bodies (she has an elaborate system of keys to make sure that all doors are locked and all curtains drawn, to keep out light, as she says, the way a ship is designed to keep out water.

This movie is more mood than plot, but the mood is expertly handled by the writer/director and by Kidman, who makes her attempts to maintain control scarier than outright terror. The cast is outstanding and the ultimate resolution properly eerie.

Parents should know that the movie does not have any bad language or gory images, but that it is genuinely creepy and may be upsetting even for older children. Some will be concerned over Anne’s questioning of her mother’s religious principles or disturbed by the implications of the final explanation.

Families who see this movie should talk about their views on life after death and why that has been a powerful theme in fiction as well as theology from the beginning of time.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Haunting (the original, not the dopey remake), The Uninvited (one of Hollywood’s all-time best ghost stories, with a theme song that may also haunt you), and The Innocents.

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